Confucianism in China: Past and Present China, a country of ancient history and tradition, known for having one of the oldest roots in history and carrying on ancient practices to the modern day, but China is rapidly changing, with new beliefs, practices and cultural ties China is rapidly becoming a world power, reforming those old traditions and creating new ones. However, the influences of ancient philosophies, such as Legalism, Taoism, and Confucianism, can still be felt in modern China influencing government, society, and business. Out of these 3 philosophies Confucianism had the greatest influence on China in the past and the present.
Confucianism was started in the early 5th century BCE by Kong Fuzi, who came from a wealthy family from Lu in Northern China. While never holding a position of authority in China Kong Fuzi traveled throughout China and amassed a great number of followers, some of whom wrote their teachers’ sayings down and compiled them into a book called the Analects. Kong Fuzi believed that religious thought or questions were beyond that of human thinking, therefore he did not bother with religion, nor did he bother with the organization of the state for he believed that political and social harmony came from good human relationships.
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For over 2,000 years Confucian thought has influenced those in Chinese government, for those who sought to govern studied through a course developed by Kong Fuzi. The core values behind Confucianism are known as Ren, Li, and Xiao which, if found in an individual, Kong Fuzi believed that they would gain the biggest social following and have a bigger influence in society. Kong Fuzi, or Confucius as he later became known as, described Ren as “kindness and benevolence or a sense of humanity. ” He believed that Ren was needed by one who was in a government position.
Li is characterized as “a sense of propriety which called for treating others with respect and deference to elders. ” The final value was that of Xiao which emphasized the importance of family in the Chinese society. These three values together, though important, are not all encompassing of Confucianism. Humanism is a big theme in Confucianism, along with believing that the self can be perfected through teachings and self-discovery. Focusing mainly on ethics and morality Confucianism is a philosophy that preaches putting ones’ beliefs over themselves, allowing their being to be perfected by the teachings of Confucianism.
Another important factor of Confucianism is that of Junzi. Junzi translates into gentleman, or “noble son” but Confucian took this meaning and twisted it. Once only applying to aristocrats or nobles in Chinese society, which meant that one of lower birth such as a peasant or one of middle class could not rise to the level of Junzi. Junzi, in a Confucian sense, is one who speaks and acts in a certain way when it is appropriate, and one who promotes a human community. The goal of all followers of Confucian followers was to become Junzi, for then they were considered a person of profound capacity and importance.
From its’ conception to the Neo-Confucian age Confucianism played a great role in ancient Chinese society greatly effecting the way the family was structured as well as the government. Confucianism dictated that women were inferior to men, stating that they were under their father until marriage, then under their husband after marriage, and once their husband passed away they were under their sons, therefore suppressing the women of Chinese society so it is ironic that during the Confucian era China had its’ only female emperor Wu Zhao.
Along with its’ strong belief in a patriarchal society Confucianism also played a great role in the government of China. Confucianism preached that the ruler must first rule themselves before they can rule their people; they must be logical, and they must put the need of the country or state above themselves, much like today’s presidents of the United States. However, unlike the U. S. Confucianism led to the Imperial examination which was a system by which one was put in office. If they passed the examination they were deemed fit to rule, if not they were not allowed to hold a government office.
Neo-Confucianism gained dominance in the middle of the 12th century CE when the Song dynasty started to push Confucianism belief over that of Buddhism in order to keep influences of foreign religions out of China; however this caused scholars of the time, such as Zhu Xi, to rethink some of the Confucian values. This lead to the creation of Neo-Confucianism which is a mesh of Buddhism and Confucian teachings, whereas traditional Confucianism focused solely on government and morality Neo-Confucianism focused more on the soul and a person’s relationship with the cosmos.
Zhu Xi, possibly the most important Neo-Confucianism scholar, created a new value to be associated with Li, which differs from the value aforementioned in Confucianism. Neo-Confucianism Li is somewhat hard to explain but it seems to be the order of nature, comparable to the Buddhism Li. Qi is the material form of Li, or the energy behind it. Along with Qi and Li Neo-Confucianism teachers taught most of the same things that original Confucianism teachers did. They believed in moral practices and living a self-involved life.
They also taught various methods of self-cultivation, which is the gradual process of acquiring knowledge. The Neo-Confucians also believed that this knowledge was useless unless combined with self-reflection that resulted in moral behavior. Neo-Confucianism influenced Chinese society from its genesis until the beginning of the twentieth century. Apart from Chinese society Neo-Confucianism also played a role in Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, shaping those countries political and social organization as well as China’s. In modern China Confucianism has suffered.
With the uprising of Communism in the early 20th century Confucianism took a back seat to Communist values. After the civil war in China where the communists emerged victorious Confucianism was essentially dead. Scholars argued that the ways of Confucius such as a patriarchal society was hindering the advancement of China into the western world. Instead of utilizing the Confucian philosophies of Imperial examination, and ruling for the people rather than for the rulers own agenda Communism oppressed Confucian beliefs in order to benefit its own movement.
During the Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong even campaigned to discredit Confucius and his beliefs and went as far as closing schools in order to recruit young people into and order called the “Red Guard” which went around destroying temples and anything connected with the old ways of China. In the 1980’s after Mao’s death China began a booming economic rise, and during the 90’s interest in Confucianism was rekindled by a void left by the absence of communism. As of the 21st century the new Chinese government is very much in support of Confucianism, the government is even implementing goals for 2020 that implicitly incorporate Confucian alues. For example they state as a goal for 2020: “Enhanced ideological and moral qualities, and further progress in fostering a sound moral atmosphere and harmonious interpersonal relationships… the public administration system needs further improvement and social order needs to be maintained. ” Some may think that these Confucian ideologies are for mere political reputation rather than for actual political use but China seems to be all in for the “Harmonious Socialist Society. ” Modern China is also making an effort to bridge Traditional and New age.
They are setting up schools for Confucianism and other such philosophies. However, this may be seen as an effort to preserve Chinese culture amidst the surge of western influence in modern China. In the city of Wuhan children from three to six years of age come every weekend to learn about ancient Confucian values, parents of the students who attend this school all agree that their children are learning values that cannot be taught in modern education, such as kindness, self-discipline, and spirituality.
The founder of this school has opened 7 schools across China but hopes to open as many as 100 in the future, he says that China must connect the traditional world with the best from the west. In addition to schools the Chinese government has also set up Confucius Institutes across the world, allowing people to come and explore the teachings of Confucius, and even erected a statue of Confucius in Tiananmen Square. Today Confucianism seems to be on the up and up in China and many other places as well, such as Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and even Japan.
All in all China seems to be a land that has a hard time letting go of its traditions even when it seems like that tradition has been completely erased. Starting in the 5th century BCE and spanning over 2,000 years Confucianism has kept itself alive. Surviving the rise of other philosophies and religions, the rise of Buddhism and Taoism and the combination of Buddhism and Confucianism even the attempted eradication of Confucianism in the early 20th century. Confucianism survived the communism revolution and has been strengthened since its fall.
Now in modern times it has been revived and is stronger than ever, with schools and institutions that teach its meaning and values. Even with many different denominations, like that of Christianity in the United States, Confucianism is still present in China, and through it all it is even spreading out of China and into other nations, stretching its’ tendrils of Chinese culture even farther into the world. No matter what China clings to and nourishes its important tradition of Confucianism.